Ahead of The Umbrella Academy’s second season premiere on Friday, we caught up with Director Stephen Surjik to discuss the upcoming season, the show’s relatability and why Toronto is the greatest place to make TV.
How did you become involved in Directing The Umbrella Academy?
It’s hard to believe how the Directors of this series became involved. There were 29 of us that were all born under the same circumstances in October 1989. Many of the details remain a mystery, but showrunner Steve Blackman searched the world over and managed to find and adopt 7 of us. I was just lucky to be one of the 7.
As you have directed episodes on both seasons of the The Umbrella Academy, can you talk about how you’ve put your creative stamp on this series?
Anyone who has seen the show knows it’s a celebration of an eclectic dysfunctional family. When you watch the show, you see the actors that play the family, relate in a way that is harsh, funny but always authentic. Most importantly, they reflect common occurring family phenomena. We observe it every day, but don’t know what to call it. It’s very relatable.
Stephen Spielberg once said “if one comes from a messed-up or broken family, then you’ll be more likely to make a good director.” The show’s wild narrative is supported and made believable by the reality of this family dynamic. The wilder the story becomes — the more convincing and realistic the family must be.
What do you love most about directing TV in Toronto?
Toronto is one of the all-time great cities, not just because it’s completely multicultural, but it is economically and functionally superior because of this racial integration. It’s a real thing that should be studied by the half-wits in the White House. And, when multiculturalism is done properly, it lights up the economy because you’re getting the best most highly motivated people from all over the world coming in and competing and being entrepreneurs and business people, and they in turn are the launch pad for great restaurants, vibrant neighbourhoods, industry and outstanding sports teams. It’s all connected. And how about those Raptors?
Who has been your favourite character to direct in The Umbrella Academy and why?
Everyone in the cast of UA is playing a misfit. Somehow they miraculously all blend into one completely believable family. For that reason alone they are all my favourites. I see them as my family.
If you pressed me, I would confess a special love for Pogo the chimp that plays the family’s majordomo. It’s a well guarded secret that NASA continues to use chimps in their ongoing testing range In Nevada. Pogo was described to us as a highly intelligent survivor of the orbiter and reentry program. NASA claimed that Pogo came to them as a gift from the linguistics lab at MIT. They had actually taught the chimp how to speak limited English, but then didn’t know what to do with him. So, they apparently asked him what he wanted to do. Pogo said he wanted to be an astronaut and an actor.
What did you watch/read/listen to in order to get inspired to shoot your episodes of The Umbrella Academy?
In the first season, I read my two scripts and realized they were almost identical and mirrored each other in a brilliant and impossible way. I understood what the writer/creator (Steve Blackman) wanted to do from a literary perspective, but I had no idea how to get there in our limited physical universe.
I found an old cop show from NBC called Boomtown. It was written by the incredible Graham Yost. It turns out that Boomtown repeated identical scenes but always changed the perspective for the viewer as the new character navigated through the scenes identical in time and space. But, they didn’t simply change the camera angle to conform with the new characters POV, they changed some of the details within the scene and occasionally it even affected the outcome. Suddenly the level of complexity became daunting. Blackman’s script was an inspiration and Boomtown was like a therapist telling me it was okay.